The best unusual YA books about WWII

Who am I?

I have a degree in history and political science, with a particular interest in military history—especially World War II history, and most especially Eastern Front history. My family has Polish roots, and my own stories tend to focus on the Polish and Ukrainian experiences, but I keenly feel the need for more YA books not only about the Eastern Front but about other, even lesser-known theaters of World War II.


I wrote...

Traitor: A Novel of World War II

By Amanda McCrina,

Book cover of Traitor: A Novel of World War II

What is my book about?

Traitor is the story of a half Polish, half Ukrainian Soviet sniper who goes on the run in 1944 Poland after not-quite-accidentally shooting his own political officer. He finds himself caught up in a muddled war-within-a-war between Soviets, Germans, Poles, and Ukrainians, all of whom consider him the enemy. It's a story about identity and belonging and, most of all, about holding on to humanity and compassion in the face of unimaginable hatred.

The books I picked & why

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My Long List of Impossible Things

By Michelle Barker,

Book cover of My Long List of Impossible Things

Why this book?

This is a haunting and uncomfortable book, in the best way; it’s one that you can’t stop thinking about because it raises difficult questions without providing easy answers. Barker writes about the immediate postwar period through the eyes of a German girl who must come to terms with what her country and her own family have done during the war. This book doesn’t gloss over anything; we see firsthand what the Soviet occupation means for the German civilian population, and we must grapple with questions of culpability and justice, of who deserves judgment and who has the right to mete it out.


This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II

By Andrew Fukuda,

Book cover of This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II

Why this book?

I loved this story about a Japanese-American boy who accidentally becomes pen pals with a French Jewish girl. Alex isn’t thrilled to find out Charlie is a girl, but as time passes, their friendship becomes an unshakeable bond—and then Charlie’s letters stop coming, and Alex’s family is forced into an internment camp by the US government. Alex siezes an opportunity to volunteer for a Japanese-American infantry regiment (the highly decorated 442nd), hoping all the while that he can somehow, miraculously, find Charlie.

This book is bittersweet and infuriating, cleverly juxtaposing the prejudice and mistreatment faced by Alex’s family with the ever increasing restrictions and cruelties faced by Charlie in German-occupied Paris, and it contains some of the best depictions of combat I’ve read in a YA novel.


The Hunger Between Us

By Marina Scott,

Book cover of The Hunger Between Us

Why this book?

Marina Scott’s The Hunger Between Us fills a curious gap in YA fiction about World War II: This is the only YA novel I’ve ever read that deals with the Siege of Leningrad. But it’s not really about the Siege of Leningrad; it’s about a girl searching doggedly for her lost friend, refusing to give up hope in a city where hunger has turned neighbor against neighbor, father against daughter, and nobody can be trusted. A profoundly character-driven war novel.

The Hunger Between Us will be released on November 1, 2022.


The Blossom and the Firefly

By Sherri L. Smith,

Book cover of The Blossom and the Firefly

Why this book?

Unexpected for a book about kamikaze, this is a quiet and gentle story, about two young people—Taro, a kamikaze pilot, and Hana, one of the Nadeshiko Tai, assigned to serve the pilots—who meet through a shared vital love of music. They both know the inevitability and finality of Taro’s upcoming mission; they both are at the mercy of circumstances beyond their control. Yet their hopes and dreams remain larger than the war. This is another one that will stay with you for a long time.


White Eagles

By Elizabeth Wein,

Book cover of White Eagles

Why this book?

I could have picked any one of Elizabeth Wein’s World War II novels; all are unique and profound, and all consider aspects of the war we don’t read about too often, or that we don’t often consider through the lens of women’s roles. But I chose White Eagles, about a young Polish female pilot modeled closely on Anna Leska, because I appreciate the attention it draws to the air war on the Eastern Front and because this is another story built mainly on the humanity of its characters; pilot Kristina’s poignant relationships both with her brother and with her young passenger are the driving forces of the narrative.


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